Review Summary: The band reaches the top... from out of the blue
Jeff Lynne always loved tongue in cheek quips, and titling his albums towards puns. Mik Kaminski had his own blue violin. Hugh McDowell had hot pink pants. Bev Bevan had purple ELO drumsticks with his name and the ELO logo idolized on them. Even keyboardist Richard Tandy had over 13 keyboards at his disposal at once, and lead band member Jeff Lynne was beginning to flirt with the mainstream success. ELO was beginning to become a little smug for their own good. For now however, the band maintained their status with a solid addition, a double album that maintained its own status as one of the most influential double albums in history. Out of the Blue was retailed and marketed in double vinyls, cassettes and eight-tracks and quickly skyrocketed to the Top 5 charts in the US and UK, as well as much of Europe.
They had finally made it big, and held recognition from every corner of the globe. From Rolling Stone to the staunchest critics, all claimed ELO as the most original rock band to spawn from England, and Out of the Blue was massive. The tour alone featured record breaking attendance and over 92 days with fog machines and massive stage laser shows that made Pink Floyds look like a keychain flashlight. The band really had done it; the fans embraced them for all of their music and talent.
Flashback. The year was 1977, and rushing around with energy to spare after their last tour, Jeff Lynne wrote over 70 minutes of material in less than a month while on vacation in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland. Among the material to become “Out of the Blue”, Lynne wrote some of his most favored material, including the analog propelled “Turn to Stone”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, and of course the almost embarrassingly enjoyable “Mr. Blue Sky” which would become one of their greatest hits and most acclaimed singles. Filled with orchestral backing and stretched dry vocals, the album was an impractical salivating musical wonder. Many off centered hits are contained on this album, and often are better than the hit singles themselves. “Across the Border” is a flavored piece of rock and roll told as a farewell: “I gotta get that southbound train tonight, if I don’t get to the border, then ill write”, and featuring a southern trumpet festival of excitement. Another great track is the cliché-as-it-sounds “Sweet is the Night”. While easily seen as filler for the album, with the right aspect is easily one of the best songs off the album. Featuring catchy lead vocals and backing vocals that can capture the heart, the song is a guilty pleasure for sure, and an emotive pop song that matches no other.
As the soup special for Out of the Blue is the 4-piece track entitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day”. Starting with the epic and mysterious “Standin’ in the Rain”, the entire superstructure is about the change of seasons and the effect they had on Jeff Lynne while in his chalet. The intros to the piece feature rain and thunder recorded from the vacation house itself. After the flurry of the storm comes the gloomy “Big Wheels”. Using the dim feelings that are often experienced when seeing the world right after the storm, one can’t help but remember those days when you couldn’t go play outside because of the weather. Continuing the feelings with “Summer and Lightning” the track starts back up with acoustical homesickness and longing. The entire concerto is simply astounding, and while overridden with synthesizers, the track finishes up with the most recommended track of guilty pleasure ever conceived. “Mr. Blue Sky” is the sun coming out to shine, and that strange excitement that it is good to go outside once again. “Mr. Blue Sky” combines everything glorious you could ever imagine in a true pop song. The guitar solo makes your chest stick out, the hits on the bell of the ride cymbal give you the sudden urge to get up and look outside. It’s the musical inspiration of the outdoors, and it’s embarrassing as hell.
Jeff Lynne had some interesting creativity in the Alps, as is seen on the song “Wild West Hero”. While dually corny with its operatic chorus, it’s an inspirational and heart sung ballad with western piano solos and cowboy inspired guitar and symphonic counterparts. In fact, almost all the tracks are hard not to sing to on this album. The band also had a few oddballs for the album, Birmingham Blues and The Whale attempt to give a different flavor, using really strange chords and overusing the synthesizer, respectively. It created a weird effect, especially when played live. While given a few mediocre reviews at the time of release, the album went on to receive attention everywhere. It’s featured in the 1000 albums you must hear before you die, as well as being named by Q magazine as the 11th biggest guilty pleasure album of all time. A few spots on the album can really give you the idea that the band was coming off a bit too arrogant, but for most of the musicality shown, the album is a positive addition. As ridiculously poppy and radio friendly as it may be, Out of the Blue was one of the crown achievements that further idolized ELO as one of the biggest selling acts in 70’s music.